When our children colour, we always feel compelled to remind them to colour inside the lines.  My daughter can colour inside the lines very well. In fact, I have proof:

Colouring inside the lines

But what do we do when our children go outside the lines? How do we react to situations where our children deviate from the routinely assigned task? With Ava, I was able to experience this deviation from the norm on a Sunday afternoon when she was colouring with her new Crayola markers. As she was colouring, she discoverd that if she shook the markers hard enough the ink would splatter on the paper. Unfortunately for me, her new discovery ended up all over the floors and wall of my living room. I could have immediately reminded her of how to appropriately colour with markers and stay in the lines (this really was my initial thought) but then I saw what she created with her new discovery:

Ava’s first accidental creation.

I was really impressed with the accidental art that she created and when I asked her about it, she called it “Splatter Splat” art. After we had a learning conversation about appropriate working conditions for this kind of art (i.e. aprons and newspapers), I felt that I needed to provide her with a opportunity to extend her creativity a little further.

Our creative session was amazing. Ava was engaged in a way that hadn’t seen before because the activity was centred around her discovery and she was an active partner in our art session. She’s coloured countless colouring pages where she was constantly reminded by adults to take her time and stay within the lines. However, this time she was the teacher and she taught me how to create the splatter effect technique. This experience made me reflect on the role of students in the classroom and how we respond to unexpected paths in their learning. Do we stay inside the lines of our program and our less plans funnelling back to the task at hand or do we think outside the lines of our program and work with the students and create the conditions for new learning? My art experience with Ava would suggest that thinking outside the lines can bring positive learning experiences for both students and teachers.

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2 thoughts on “Think Outside The Lines

  1. Jackson Pollock art! I have also done this with my former first and second grade students. They love the “splattering” action because kids always love what’s messy, colorful and something that will give them a taste of freedom 🙂

  2. Thomas, I love this post and the bigger lesson here! I used to be the teacher that kept the students within the lines. It was like a natural reaction. Don’t get me wrong: I still gave student choice, but students could not deviate from those choices. This has changed in the last couple of years though. I encourage students to think outside the lines. As with what you did with Ava, I ask students to talk to me if they have a different approach, so that we can create those ideal working conditions. We make it happen though, and the results have been amazing!

    As a teacher though, I think that it’s hard to take this approach. It took me a lot of time to do so, and even when I did, it was with some reluctance. I was worried that students might take advantage. I was concerned that they wouldn’t accomplish what I needed them to accomplish. That’s where learning goals and success criteria proved useful. Students knew that the other options would work if they still met these goals. How do you get more people to “think outside the lines?”


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